Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Music

I am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger | Rhiannon Giddens

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed a small, steady stream of visitors to an earlier post on Rhiannon Giddens. It featured “Julie,” Giddens’ song about a black daughter and a white mother living in North Carolina during the brutal 1898 uprising against and slaughter of Black people. As she put it, “Julie” is her way of conveying the complexities of her own life as the daughter of a white mother.

A few days ago I listened to Giddens’ rendition of “Wayfaring Stranger” (above). I heard this haunting song frequently when I was growing up the Deep South. Now, having heard Giddens’ stunning interpretation, it’s playing at will in my psyche, night and day.

I’m guessing most of us struggle with multiple identities, as well as what it means to be human in one setting or another. I find myself bouncing back and forth between the ignorance and naivete of my childhood in the South, and my radically different experience of life here in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Especially when I was working at the seminary, and now experience in my home church.

In many ways, going home sounds like heaven. Partly because it would be the first safe home of my life. The first place where I know I don’t have to prove who I am and am not, or endure the agony of not knowing who I am. To say nothing of concerted attempts to put and keep me in my place. Or the internal desire to look the other way when someone else is supposedly being put in his or her place.

The difference, of course, is that I’m not mixed race, black, or facing the realities my black and mixed race friends and their families face daily. This human-made, aching chasm in our nation is begging for attention and understanding. The kind persuasively conveyed in music that softens us and invites us into a stranger’s perspective and our own self-examination.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 June 2020
Video found on YouTube

outside my window

outside my window
a song sparrow feasts on buds
dodging lazy rain

this morning he sings
during the dawn song hour
or is it a half

cracking closed eyelids
I calm my breath and feign sleep
during his encore

Yesterday was a full stop. Time out to see what doing “nothing in particular” felt like. This included not listening to news during the day.

Overall, it was wonderful. Especially our longer than usual late afternoon walk in damp, cloudy, beautiful spring weather. The birds were out in droves, singing and calling out their territorial warnings. Near the end, a red-tail hawk flew by, cruising through tree-tops.

When we got back from our walk, the little song sparrow was feasting on tiny flower buds just outside my office window. He and his mate have a nest in a large shrub beside our house. Hearing them sing, and listening to the little ones learning to sing is a gift.

As we left for our walk, our neighbor and one of his young children were out for a walk around the yard. His wife is a medical doctor, on the faculty of one of Philadelphia’s teaching hospitals. She’s been on Covid-19 duty for weeks. I wish for her and her family a day to walk through the neighborhood, doing nothing. And a morning to lie in bed listening to the birds.

The stark contrasts between what we’re all experiencing during this pandemic are troubling. We aren’t in a rosy situation. We’re at the edge of a precipice, wondering who or what will be there when we fall. Will anyone care enough to pick us up? And will there be any birds or music to comfort us?

Which pandemic are you experiencing?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 April 2020
Photo of Song Sparrow taken by Dan Miller, found at pixels.com

A Prized Possession

A prized possession sits in front of me. It’s small, worn and faded. I found it years ago, when I was working at the seminary. It was sitting on a give-away table.

I’ve always had a weak spot for books, especially when they’re free. So I picked it up and couldn’t put it down—a small hymnal, pocket-book size.

The stamp on the inside cover says “Property of Trinity Church, Vineland, N.J.” Title: The Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America 1940.

My relationship with this little book has been sporadic, though with a theme. It keeps me centered and focused when I’m going through tough times. I first appreciated it fully after I broke my jaw in April 2016. When I couldn’t find words or sleep, it offered something to calm my heart.

Now, in April 2020, I’m using it regularly. My life and death aren’t unfolding as anticipated. The hymn I read and sang today is spot on. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. It offers a joyful, realistic description for any day of the year—especially now.

Even if you aren’t overtly religious, these words might be for you, too. The sun doesn’t rise and set on orders from any human being. I find that immensely reassuring in these troubled times.

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise!
Triumph o’er the shades of night:
Day-spring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.

Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by thee;
Joyless is the day’s return,
‘Till thy mercy’s beams I see;
Till they inward light impart,
Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.

Visit then this soul of mine!
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief!
Fill me, radiancy divine;
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more thyself display
Shining to the perfect day. Amen.

Words by Charles Wesley, 1740
© 1940, 1943 by The Church Pension Fund
Published in The Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America – 1940

Praying we’ll all make time to breathe deeply today, and be grateful.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 April 2020
Photo of sunrise in Acadia National Park, Maine, found at pinterest.com

Night belongs to You

Night belongs to You
And creatures of deep shadows
Encircling my heart
Kindly taking their places
Guardians sent from above

Sometimes during the night I hear Smudge making a commotion downstairs. He’s making sure stray crickets or mice are stopped dead in their tracks. Otherwise, you see, they might come up the stairs and invade our bedroom.

I’d even argue that Lucy Pacemaker (I Love Lucy!) is one of these night creatures. Most lively at night, kicking and kicking my slow heartbeat up to something resembling a live human being.

And then there are times during the night when words from a hymn I love come flooding in. Not exactly creatures, but definitely guardians sent from above.

Today was strange. No internet until now (late afternoon). Instead of writing, I got some chores done, read from a challenging book about white rage in the USA (White Rage, by Carol Anderson, PhD), and took a chilly, enjoyable walk around the neighborhood.

Hoping your night is visited by kindly guardians of all kinds, even though you may not feel at peace.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 November 2019
Image found at cottagelife.com

Trying to keep up?

Worn out
From trying to keep up?
Face it
This is an addiction
As fierce
As trying to run away
From voices
Calling in the night

Fix it or get over it!
Now!

Or did you lose it
Somewhere back there
Years before you
Took that first fall
Into icy water
And never
Stopped running?

What are you, and what am I? The broken model, or the sought-after model? Does it really matter?

My mother’s plunge into icy water was polio. She was 28; I was 6. She lived most of her life believing she had to demonstrate she was ‘normal.’ Whatever that meant.

Since when did it become The Rule that we must hide our broken bits? Or at least pretend they don’t matter when they do.

I broke my jaw over three years ago. Ironically, it was a gift. A dead stop I couldn’t ignore. Forced changes rescued me from a diet and lifestyle that was undermining my heart and kidney health.

But the gift sometimes feels like poison. Not poison to my body, but to my spirit and my social life. Especially when I come up against limitations.

This morning I heard a John Rutter song on public radio — “Look to the Day.” Rutter wrote the words and music at the invitation of Cancer Research UK for their Service of Thanksgiving in Ely Cathedral, 23rd September 2007. A simple song of hope and reorientation.

Somehow it got through to me. There’s more to life than continuing with things as usual. Especially when they aren’t usual, and life is short.

I found this rendition on You Tube. It’s sung from the heart by women and men who don’t speak English as their first language. I want to learn to sing like this from my heart, especially when I find myself in new or scary territory.

Praying you have a hope-filled Sabbath rest.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 August 2019
Image found at my.vanderbilt.edu

I’m not my mother

I’m not my mother
Or the young girl
She wanted me to be
Surrounded by friends
Pretty with curls in my hair
Dressed in cheery colors
Enjoying a childhood
Unlike hers lived in fear
Of gossip and taunts
From girls going nowhere
Despite their self-assured
Superiority unknown
In my mother’s world

I fought against my mother. Refused her regular advice about clothes and colors. Felt ashamed of her outgoing ways and her polio-scarred body; her face devoid of make-up. Nothing could hide the tremor on the left side of her face. Or the sight of her estranged mother arriving at grade school, dressed like a diva bearing gifts to her royal daughter.

I endured with chagrin and barely suppressed anger her attempts to make my straight thin hair curly and fulsome, like her beautiful auburn hair.

And…she taught me to play the piano. Cook. Clean. Starch and iron clothes. Make beds. Fold towels and sheets. Organize drawers and cupboards. Things her absent mother never taught her.

There’s a saying I remember from my growing-up years. I didn’t care for it; my mother did. Her kitchen wall hanging proclaimed it boldly: “Bloom where you’re planted.” I couldn’t; neither could she.

Two lost souls thrown together. One extroverted, the other introverted. Both lonely; intelligent; eldest daughters; desperate to be loved and heard; musicians from the inside out. Overshadowed and dominated by a world of men. Unable to play and sing our songs freely without fear of having our wings clipped.

And yet…every time I read My mother’s body, I feel a tug at my heart. Pulling me back toward her. Not out of pity, but with understanding that’s still taking root in me. Softening me toward her and toward myself. Especially when I’m playing the piano, and feel some of her musicality playing through me.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 February 2019
Photo of winter snowdrops found at pinterest.com

A Birthday Gift to Myself

Dear Friends,

Yesterday I turned 75. No fanfare. Just a quiet day at home enjoying my retirement family: D, Smudge and Marie. Plus telephone conversations with our two children. And a walk outside with D in cold, windy weather.

At this age there aren’t many things I want for myself. Nonetheless, during a conversation with a friend earlier this week I identified something I’ve wanted all my life.

When I was 15 years old Mrs. Hanks, my piano teacher from when I was 9, asked about my plans after high school graduation.

‘I’m thinking about going to Bible college.’

‘Have you ever thought about going to a music conservatory and majoring in piano?’

Fear gripped my heart. I would love to do this! Yet I had no confidence in myself beyond what I’d already done, and no vision for what this might mean for me.

Mrs. Hanks said she had a friend teaching in the best music program in the state of Georgia. In fact, she’d already spoken with her, and this woman would be delighted to meet me and talk with me about scholarship possibilities.

When I told my parents about this, my father said he thought I would be better ready for life if I enrolled in a Bible college in South Carolina. Some of my friends had already studied there, and he was certain I would get a good education there.

I felt torn between fear and excitement about the unknown, and my desperate need not to fail. I also knew I would make it at the Bible college. So I chose the Bible college.

Many times I’ve looked back at that decision and wondered what might have been. Music has always been where my heart feels most at home.

Thankfully, beginning with the Bible college, music has always been part of my life. Sometimes for pay; sometimes as a volunteer. Even when I was a professor and dean at the seminary, music informed everything I did. It made its way into my thought processes, the way I said or wrote things, my imagination about this world, and about this huge universe presided over by the Greatest Musician of All.

Now I’m 75. My fingers and reflexes aren’t what they used to be. Even so, I long to recover some of the freedom I used to have at the keyboard.

Even more important, my mother wanted me to become a musician. Not a famous musician, but the musician she already heard in me at age 5 when she began teaching me to play the piano.

So a few days ago I contacted a musician friend and asked her to recommend a piano coach for me. Someone who can help me, at this age, to regain some of what the years have taken. My happy birthday gift to myself. And maybe for my mother.

Right now I’m a 75-year old kid who can’t wait to open a present I’ve wanted for too many years!

Thanks for listening,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 November 2018
Photo found at birthdaycakeformom.com

Comin’ Up From Behind – Sherry Fraser/Two Ton Boa

I’ve been singing this in my head all week! My favorite line: “She’s got the truth and her tongue for a slingshot.” All put together in a rollicking score by our daughter, Sherry Fraser of Two Ton Boa. I’ve included the lyrics below my comments.

Sherry published this in May 2000 (Kill Rock Stars). It was later re-recorded by her old boyfriend, John Wozniak of Marcy Playground, as the trailer to the movie “Cruel Intentions.”

I prefer Sherry’s original recording. Not just because she’s my daughter (!), but because this is a woman’s song. It captures the anger and fury of a woman who’s being used and abused, plus her determination to “take a mighty swipe at the high hogs….” All in a lively, upbeat rag that throws the words right down there in front of you—dished up hot on your plate whether you like them or not.

I’ll never have Sherry’s voice. But I have her spirit and her determination. Thank you, Sherry, for showing me how it’s done.

Comin’ Up From Behind – Sherry Fraser/Two Ton Boa

She’s an eight ball
She’s rolling faster than a whitewall
She’s got an avalanche packed in a snowball
She’s losing all her leeches like a stonewall…she’s loaded up

She’s the underdog
Gonna take a mighty swipe at the high hogs
While they’re sipping on their tricks in a thick fog
Making eyes at the girls like bullfrogs…I’m telling you sir

She’s coming up from, coming up from,
Comin’ up, coming up from behind, yeah!
She’s coming up from, coming up from, coming up
Coming up from behind

You’d like her hanging
Like a sneaker on a live wire dangling
While your wall street pockets are jangling
With the hollow jackpot of your rich kid games

It’s a longshot
She’s got the truth and her tongue for a slingshot
But she’s taking steady aim at the big shots
It’s hard to miss the ruling bullies on the blacktop…

You better pocket your turf
She’s coming up from behind

You had her hanging
Like a sneaker on a live wire dangling
While your gold lined pockets were jangling
With the hollow jackpot of your wretched games

She caught your sick lie
It was creeping in the shadow of your white smile
Lurking underneath the cover of your bedroom eyes
Were you greasing up plans for your small fry?

You want her talking up to you
Where you float like a royal balloon-o
Your ego swollen to the size of the moon…well
I think you found somebody to cut you down to size!

Wishing you a happy weekend!

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 March 2018

HERarchy


When I was growing up, it seemed the only way to succeed in my white conservative Christian circles was by toeing the line. Never acting out or acting up. It was the only safe way to get ahead in life or at least keep up with the boys.

As it turned out, it wasn’t safe. I didn’t get ahead. And I never could keep up with the boys.

Being the ‘good girl’ type (at least on the outside), I didn’t experience vicious playground hazing. Probably because I wasn’t threatening to girls who seemed to know all about boys and makeup, movies and sex.

Though I desperately wanted to be included, I didn’t want undue attention. So I modulated my voice, made sure I didn’t offend anyone, smiled a lot, and kept my mouth shut. I was no big deal. No threat to anyone.

That’s why I’m blown away when I listen to my daughter – so like and so unlike I am. She wasn’t a rebel growing up. She was simply herself. Bold and introverted. Intuitive and creative. Her music began early and still takes my breath away. How did this voice happen?

Below are most of the lyrics from one of her recorded songs, followed by a YouTube recording. It’s Sherry’s take on playground politics among girls young and old. Another way of describing the Divide and Conquer Club.

HERarchy

Misfit, misfit, got no sense
Sitting like a chicken on the chain link fence
Never picks a side, all she does is cry
How many teardrops can she hide
you MISFIT MISFIT throw the dog a biscuit!
How many kicks until she licks it?
1, 2, 3, 4, FIVE

This situation’s hopeless
No matter what I do
These small-town girls will hate me
Since I stepped outside their rules

I see their
Angel faces twist into riddles
Sisters on a rampage with the scissors
Tongues packing sweet words like pistols
Firing on my back like heat-seeking missiles

pleading crying cannot satisfy
the cruel appetites of GIRLS! GIRLS!

What do they see?
Why are these crosshairs on me?
What do they hear?
The voice of envy sneer…?
I’m a spotlight thief!
I won’t take tea
I won’t take lessons in how to be
Seen
Not heard
I’m a misfit little bird
Dodging bigger beaks
On a playground for

GIRLS! GIRLS!

Look who’s all alone –
It’s the one-woman show!
Who’s got a stone?
Don’t you know –
Our status grows
When we tear into a threat
With a fine tooth comb!
She’s all alone –
Somebody please throw the dog bone!

Angel faces twist into riddles
Sisters on a rampage with the scissors
Tongues packing mind fucks like pistols
Breathing down my neck like heat seeking missiles

Running hiding
can’t get by
the vicious social politics of
GIRLS! GIRLS! ….

©Sherry Fraser (Two Ton Boa), recorded on Parasiticide, published 2009

Here’s the entire recording. Sherry wrote the lyrics and music, and sings the lead.

Here’s to more women willing to shine a light on what’s happening in our social and political playgrounds today.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 March 2018
Photo of playground girls found at dreamstime.com

slow cold drizzle

slow cold drizzle
hangs in late winter air
song sparrows sing spring

I’m just back from a morning errand. Chilled to the bone, umbrella in hand, winter hat and gloves in place along with multiple layers of warmth. As I walked down our driveway, I heard and then saw a resident song sparrow getting a jump on competitors that might want his staked-out territory! Here’s to an early spring–which we seemed to have for two  glorious days this week before another cold front came through yesterday.

Enjoy the birdsong, if not the weather, wherever you are. (There are two song sparrows on the short video.)

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 February 2018
Video found on YouTube – by Lang Elliot at musicofnature.org

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